Colon Polyps Symptoms & Treatment
Colon polyps are small growths on the inside lining of the large intestine. Most people with polyps will not know they are there because they do not produce any symptoms. While polyps are usually benign (noncancerous), some can turn into cancer.
There are two types of polyps: hyperplastic and adenoma. A hyperplastic polyp is typically benign, but an adenoma can turn into cancer. Cancer occurs when cells in the interior lining of the colon grow abnormally and out of control, instead of dividing in an orderly manner.
In the US, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and the third leading cause in women. Screening for colon cancer may prevent it from developing, because polyps can be detected and removed during a colonoscopy. When found at an early stage before it has spread, the 5-year survival rate for colon cancer is about 90%.
The American Cancer Society recommends that people be screened for colon cancer beginning at age 45, or earlier if you have one or more risk factors for colon cancer.
Experts don’t know what causes colon polyps. However, research suggests that risk factors may include age, a family history of colon polyps or cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), obesity, and smoking.
Most people with colon polyps or early colon cancer do not have symptoms. When polyps do cause symptoms, they may include:
- Changes in bowel movement patterns, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrow stools that last for more than a few days
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Weight loss
- Fatigue and weakness
- Abdominal pain
Your doctor will first review your medical history, including risk factors, and then conduct a physical exam. Be sure to tell your doctor about any symptoms you may be having. Your doctor will rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as hemorrhoids or infection.
There are several tests for colon polyps and cancer:
- Stool blood test
- Blood tests to detect anemia or tumor markers
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy to view the rectum and part of the colon
- Lower GI barium X-rays (usually in conjunction with sigmoidoscopy)
- Colonoscopy to view the entire colon and obtain a biopsy
If your doctor finds one or more colon polyps, he or she can remove them and have them examined to see if they are cancerous. If you have colon polyps, your doctor will recommend that you have regular testing every 3 to 5 years because you have a higher chance of developing more polyps.
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